Socialisation of children is a path of continual decision-making about your approach to truth. These decisions are not made in isolation, but involve both parents, and often grandparents and other family. Not everyone always agrees, but children either need to be spared conflicting information or advised about how to deal with different views, which is part of learning about the reality they are growing into.
Ziya’s school is non-denominational, but twice a day they pray, starting with the words, ‘Dear Father’. Of course, because I’ve given little thought to schooling, other than where she will learn through play, never be beaten and feel respected and empowered, the whole question of prayer never occurred to me. I’m atheist, but if I was to pray, it would likely start with the words, ‘Dear Mother’, because I can’t conceive how God, like humans who create life, could have anything other than breasts, womb and a vagina.
As an anthropologist, I think that humans create conceptions of God or gods and goddesses that match their own worldview. In a world that wasn’t founded on male domination or where we considered gender to be more flexible, our gods could also have feminine aspects or goddesses could have male incarnations or God could instead be imagined as a Mother figure to revere, as with many cultures that have existed across place and time whose beliefs are as valid as we consider our own.
As a mother, I teach Ziya to see a walk through a forest as a moment for meditation and those peaceful places where rivers meet seas as sites for kneeling quietly to breathe, listen and feel. Sometimes, we say good night to the trees, birds, animals and the earth because it is these that I think are deities of life and the complex, mysterious abundance of creation.
As a parent, I’m not going to tell her Santa Clause is real, but I’m going to let her encounter the world as it exists and learn to ask questions about why. I’m not going to teach her about God, but no doubt everyone else will and when she asks what I believe, I’ll be truthful because that’s how she will know she has to make up her own mind too. Now that Zi’s in school, I have less control over the ideas she will encounter. That means it’s my job to have new conversations with her.
As a citizen in our multi-religious society, I don’t have a policy of censorship. Ziya’s not going to be harmed by prayer, even to a male God that I don’t believe in, which simply reminds her to be good, kind, grateful and conscientious. She should be exposed to other beliefs, learn what they can offer to her and live harmoniously with others holding different beliefs from her own. I think that when you learn about religion, you are also learning about culture, gender, philosophy and the sacred, just as you can learn about the need to question rather than blindly believe, to seek answers in history, and to reflect on what kinds of ideas and power order the world.
I wish that some days her prayer started, ‘Dear Mother’ just as it does ‘Dear Father’ because, frankly none of us can definitively say it’s one or the other, and because I see male headship and domination in the hidden curriculum greeting her everywhere she turns. In my own and her everyday negotiations with ‘truth’, I’m charting a journey not everyone will agree to. Hopefully, the open-mindedness I would like to bring is what others will also.